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Pianothon - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
qatsi
qatsi
Pianothon
Yesterday morning kharin and I headed off to Battersea Power Station (hat-tip to brixtonbrood for the info). It was sad to see such a great building in its present state, but also great to have the opportunity to see it close-up. I'm not convinced of the regeneration plans (the open days presumably being a condition of the planning application/process) but who knows, and I am not a local and won't be affected by them. At least the weather was nice.

I went on to join the queue for Prom 59, shaded by the balustrades down the steps from the Albert Hall, and managed to get a central space in the second row of the arena. Jukka-Pekka Saraste looked rather like an ageing hippy, a character transported from The Magic Roundabout into the 21st century, as he conducted the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. They stared with the UK premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Seht die Sonne, a work commissioned by Sir Simon Rattle specifically to use similar orchestral resources to Mahler's Ninth Symphony. In fact, Lindberg does rather more than that, with the opening horn call very reminiscent of one of the main themes in Mahler's opening movement. However, though the Mahler is scored for a large orchestra, most of the time they aren't all playing together; Lindberg seemed to favour making all of the musicians work all of the time. It did have some better sections, but I found the work stopped, rather than ended - perhaps I hadn't been paying sufficient attention.

Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 is notoriously difficult, but Nikolai Lugansky stepped up to the mark in a businesslike fashion. Facially impassive, he was technically impressive. The orchestra must have been briefed on the Prommer's japes: the leader welcomed the applause as she struck the initial A on the piano. One of the violinists quipped to the arena audience as they left the stage for the interval, "you deserve a break". It was true, it had been a long first half to the concert.

The second half of the concert was Sibelius' Symphony No. 1. The programme notes (and much other commentary I've seen over the years) emphasised that this was the most Russian of Sibelius' symphonies, with particular reference to Tchaikovsky (and also, though not Russian, to Bruckner). I'm not sure I see this: to my hearing we are definitely in Sibelius' own sound world right from the beginning. It may be technically correct to describe the symphony as Russian, however, as it dates from before Finnish independence. The orchestra played this with passion and rigour, as it demands, and I thought it was a very successful performance. We had two encores, Geirr Tveitt's Hardanger Melody and a medley based on themes (principally Anitra's Dance and The Death of Aåse) from Peer Gynt - interspersed with a more traditional folk melody on the principal viola. Full details will, I expect, appear here in due course. (EDIT: Velkommen med æra from 100 Hardanger Tunes by Geirr Tveitt, and Prelude to Act 1 - At the Wedding from Peer Gynt by Grieg).

After a late night, and waking to the sound of rain, it wasn't so easy to be enthusiastic to return to London today, and I didn't get to the Albert Hall until about quarter to one. Normally, this would have been plenty of time; but today's afternoon concert was a piano recital by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. Whenever there is rain, the queueing system gets disrupted, but the stewards were on vigilant patrol, and raffle tickets were duly assigned - and monitored right up to entering the hall. A stage had been constructed in the centre of the arena for the piano, so the capacity was reduced; I had ticket 76, so no real problem, though it was one of those more "compact and bijou" occasions. No danger of falling to the floor if you fainted; you would be propped up by those around you.

The remains of Suzy Klein must lie somewhere in the bowels of the Royal Albert Hall, as this afternoon's concert was presented from the stage by Sean Rafferty. The programme began with a Mozart sonata, then proceeded to two Rachmaninov preludes (though the B flat one in particular was very unbalanced) and Chopin's Grande Polonaise brillante. Lang Lang was joined by "child prodigy" Marc Yu (aged 9) for a duet, Schubert's Fantasia in F Minor D940: it was well played by both, but I did have a slightly uneasy feeling of taking part in a well-meaning freak show. Lang Lang then went on to play two Debussy preludes, and arrangements of traditional Chinese melodies Moonlight Reflections and Spring Dances. The second of these in particular struck me as Russian or Central Asian more than Chinese - perhaps its Gypsy harmonies have travelled along the Silk Road through the centuries. Finally, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 - as arranged and augmented by Horowitz. My own feeling on this is that there really were too many notes. Apparently Lang Lang's first memory of western Classical music is from a viewing of The Cat Concerto, a Tom and Jerry cartoon - and a nicely proletarian touch. Lang Lang is a global brand and as is the way with footballers and the like, takes liberties when it suits him. He may be a brilliant pianist but he's also a showman and carefully cultivates a personality cult that allows him to get away with it.

Again we had two encores - the first, EDIT:I think, based on Rubinstein's Melody in F (though quite possibly a Horowitz arrangement again)a Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 3, and the second - more interestingly - additionally featuring Mr Lang senior on the erhu (two-stringed Chinese violin) playing the traditional Chinese piece Two Horses.

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